Why Cities Need Slums
Just as Slums Need Cities to Survive, so do Cities Need Slums to Thrive
By Babar Mumtaz "Slum" is a very sticky word. It's short, simple and difficult to replace. As a result, it is, more often than not, misused in the context of cities in developing countries. A slum is a housing area that has deteriorated. It was originally applied to those parts of cities that were once respectable, even desirable, but which have gradually deteriorated as the original residents moved out to newer, better areas of town. The once "respectable" houses became rental properties, with the accommodation modified to house an increasing number of occupants. Thus a four-storey family mansion became four "flats", with each room housing one or more family. Generally, as the living accommodation gets subdivided, the services remain the same. The kitchen and the bathroom become shared. As the property gets overloaded and overcrowded, its rental value goes down, and especially if rent controls are enforced, the rents are no longer enough to justify repairs. Thereafter, the building goes into limbo, living out a slow death. In some cases, its fortunes may revive, if the area then becomes a target for artists and architects who can spot a bargain lurking behind the makeshift partitions. If conditions are right, there may even be a general overhaul of the area as part of an urban renewal programme. These are the slums that all cities have had to deal with. These are the slums that Engels wrote about in England over a hundred years ago, a direct outcome of the industrial revolution, and which justified government involvement in housing, and the introduction of building control regulations and planning laws. These are the slums that we would all like to get rid of. However, there is another form of housing, especially - but not limited to - cities in developing countries. These are the "informal settlements" that house migrants to big cities. Often on the edges of the built-up areas, they provide accommodation for those that cannot afford - and are not entitled - to live in the housing provided in the planned settlements. In each country, there is a name for them: bidonville, katchi abadi, bustee, favella, barrio, kampung, that reflect either their rural character or material status. There is no acceptable generic term for these dwellings. Informal settlements may be accurate but is not only a mouthful, but not expressive enough for many. Often, the land on which these dwellings are built does not belong to the residents. Yet it would be inaccurate to call the residents squatters as many of them have title or rights or are paying rent for the land or the structure. Unfortunately, we tend to lump this type of housing together and refer to it as "slums". Not only are they different in origin, character and the role they play in cities, the type of response needed to deal with them is also different. It would, of course, be too much to ask of those who profess a concern for cities and their housing areas to be selective about the term they use, and we will have to make do with "slums" as the catchall. I will try to distinguish between the upwardly mobile informal settlements and the static or deteriorating slums, but insisting upon it may well be thought unnecessarily pedantic. Are slums inevitable? All cities have their slums and their informal settlements. Their extent, proportion and character vary not merely with income level but also with the socio-political or legislative environment and law-enforcement regime. Ironically, it is not so much the absence of a legal framework and its application that leads to slums and informal settlements; its very presence can frustrate efforts to pre-empt and prevent their formation and growth.
In over 150 years of trying. Informal settlements come about because the price and the rate and scale of provision of formal settlements cannot match the demand for housing. So how do we cope with the reality of slums in our cities? Following are some pointers: • • • Recognize the city's need for migrants and make good use of the migrants' energy. relative.
. and the worst "slums" of a city may still be better than most parts of many. organizational and technical information and sources. They play a useful role in providing cheap (though not necessarily cheerful) housing for those who cannot or. as likely. All informal settlements gradually improve over time if they are not "eradicated". slums are not only inevitable. Support the transformation of informal settlements. Those who are against slums. the minimal acceptable salary would really hit the pockets and the profits of the rich. the fight against slums is directed against informal settlements. and an area may continue to be held in esteem even as properties within it are gutted and remodelled. we should see their formation as an indicator of urban success. rapidly changing cities. but some do so faster and better than others. often act on the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) principle. deterioration and renewal. The extent of deterioration is. it is easier to pay low wages. but it is also a consequence of the success of the city relative to other settlements or the rural areas. and parts that are being newly developed or renovated. The decline and renovation of some cities may be piecemeal and hardly visible on the outside or to outsiders. will not. but that at any given moment of time. and without the informal settlements. of course. especially when no alternative housing has been developed can mean even more hardship for the very group that is so essential to urban development: the rural migrant. As long as gross wage disparities exist (making it possible for cities to employ cheap labour). The rest manage not only without access to government handouts and subsidies. however marginal. there are parts that have seen better days. However. while retaining their facades. However. so do cities need slums to thrive. Thus while we should deplore the conditions in slums. we have yet to come up with a viable alternative. Though not inevitable. I have yet to hear those wanting to get rid of slums and informal settlements make a plea for wages that allow affordable housing as a solution. At best. informal settlements take advantage of the failures of the formal sector and use sweat equity instead of money to create a living environment. With large numbers competing for work in cities. the slums most people are against are the large-scale deterioration of structures. They are against the apparent chaos (read dynamism). enthusiasm and willingness to make a new and better life for themselves. Just as slums and slum dwellers need cities to survive. In most cities. Only in a static (stagnant?) city does the state and status of its constituent parts remain unchanged. drive. This is not to say that each part of a city must go through a cycle of development. the formal sector manages to house between 20 and 40 per cent of urban households. by providing access to financial. want to spend any more on housing than they possibly can. makeshift construction and lack of services (read rural) and the fear that these settlements are the breeding ground for crime and prostitution (read exploitation). Provide the support required to speed up the process. a worker still needs to live. In fact. This allows for the incremental development and gradual improvement of settlements without front-loading them with excessive infrastructure and construction costs. infrastructure and living conditions. like other informal sector activities. they are a mark of success of a city. Insisting on a "city without slums".In my opinion. Recognize the needs of migrants: their housing needs are minimal compared to their need for income and employment. These areas in transition can facilitate migrants in the process of consolidating their transformation into citizens. this may be a failure of the formal sector. slums are here to stay. The formation of slums is an integral part of the process of growth and development of a city. disorderly layout (read organic). but despite the obstacles and barriers put up by government bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies. these usually only come about in dynamic. ramshackle. Yet it was exactly this solution that was responsible for getting rid of the slums in cities such as Manchester and London. To a large extent. and thereby enriching the city at a very low cost to the city.
the more likely it is that someone will be using it to exhort money. Better still. not only do they end up with the better off. don't pay the private sector. layout. Don't worry about providing subsidies. or provide it with incentives. and be prepared to make use of serendipity. Participate in the process of creating informal settlements and facilitate their growth and development. to provide housing or housing finance for low-income residents.•
Don't worry about providing land titles . increase facilitation and information. Instead. make this clear at the very beginning. "Entitle" the urban poor with the right to settle and recognize the settlement. Use the funds to ensure a living wage.
Babar Mumtaz is Senior Technical Advisor to the UNCHS/UNDP Community-based Initiatives for Housing and Local Development (CoBILD) in Indonesia. indicate the "right" location and attract settlers to them. Similarly. Use the power of incentives rather than penalties to assist and guide development. The more control there is. Use consultation instead of confrontation and use collaboration instead of compulsion. Reduce building and planning controls and regulations. If the settlement is in the "wrong" location. land development and infrastructure provision.the poor don't borrow from institutions that require them. most poor households manage without one. Learn from informal settlements about standards. Be flexible and creative.